Young people today are always connected, be it in class or at home, on a weekday or weekend. They can be with friends even when they are alone. They can find answers to virtually anything they question. Are today’s kids still capable of being inventive? Can they use their imaginations, as we once did, to create something from nothing? I keep wondering what is still possible.
When I was a child, we had to come up with ideas to occupy our time. Once two of us decided to invent a concoction to polish door knobs. We gathered substances from under the sink, creating different combinations. In order to be effective, our product, would have to remove the grime and produce a brilliant new shine. We knew from the start that we’d have to experiment, and that our first efforts would hardly be our last. Testing the goop on site, we ultimately arrived at “the perfect formula.” Next we went door to door as salespeople, confident that what we created would do the trick. Our efforts didn’t disappoint. The process, which entailed generating a theory, testing out ideas, resolving critical issues, and modifying our initial plans, became the model we applied to all our endeavors. We wrote plays, designed costumes, and made-up imaginary worlds of our own. Every experience was a process that involved trial, disappointment and new learnings.
In 2012 in a calculated effort to get kids’ minds in motion, MIT’s D-Lab and The Advent School came up with a plan. They would get kids to embark on new ways of thinking, by combining the know-how of classroom teachers with the technological expertise of MIT pros. The challenge for kids was to use pedal power to create energy to make something work.
Finding a viable solution to this problem was more difficult than kids envisioned. In the process they realized that trying to engineer a new design didn’t always result in success. Many iterations into their model-making, kids figured out that, “If you’re inventing something, you need a diagram!” After four weeks they’d learned how bicycles work, how they could incorporate their knowledge into their own designs, and that keeping track of their ideas in design notebooks worked to their advantage. Several weeks ago along the coast of Maine I volunteered at a local “Maker’s Faire.” Enrolled participants shared their ideas while others had the chance to become innovators themselves.
Our table offered bags full of random objects that could be put together using hinges, screwdrivers, and hammers. Of the 90 who rolled up their sleeves, every one had a sense of purpose. They were eager to dive in, inspired by the materials and what could come of combining them.
I am delighted to confirm that kids of all ages still believe in possibility. We must empower them to put their minds to it.
Nancy Harris Frohlich